Bill Smith, the Roundtable Guy
I know that a lot of you like to have your Tigers, Wolves and Bears complete their respective badge requirements by the Blue and Gold celebration so I thought we should now take a good look at electives.
There is much value in these electives and I’m not sure we appreciate just how much they can contribute to reaching the purposes of the Cub Scout program. The boys’ books are full of wonderful opportunities for parents and leaders to involve Cub Scouts in things that will help them grow.
Too often, I think, we tend to dismiss the electives as a trivial add-on to the advancement method. The big badge is the goal; the arrow points are inconsequential. Yet, electives supply a richer variety of opportunities than do the achievements. They give boys and parents the chance to choose and explore – to develop the interests, curiosity and talents within the growing child. We should never underestimate the values of these options.
I have had the luck and the privilege to observe and participate in the work that goes into the boys’ books. I have worked on a task force to update the Wolf Handbook and another to create the first Tiger handbook. In both cases, I was awed by how much effort and concern went into the process. Questions like: What will this do to the boy? Can parents anywhere do this? How can a den leader use this? The first and last question was always: How does this fit into our Purposes of Cub Scouting?
One of the great joys of the electives is that the requirements are generally looser so that a boy can be rewarded for just exploring a new pathway to adventure.
As long as he does his best Akela can sign it off. Moreover, if he discovers a wonderful world that sparks a new fire within him, many electives provide chances to explore further. My Tiger Cub Handbook seems to set no limit on how often a boy may return to the same elective.
One aspect of electives sets BSA apart from any other youth program I know of. It gives parents a spectacular set of tools to use with their sons. Each elective consists of short projects designed so that a boy and his parent – or even his whole family – can work together on it. This gives families lots of short activities where a boy and his parents do things together.
These activities: preparing meals, singing songs, checking smoke detectors, building a model- automatically involve TALKING. They TALK, they listen to each other, they plan, they express their hopes, their concerns, and their jokes. They learn to respect each other’s moods and styles. They create special communication channels that remain vital and valuable for all their lives.
Nothing tells your child you care more than choosing to be with him.
Parent’s Little Book of Wisdom.
The time to do electives varies – some may be as short as fifteen minutes so that they can fit into anybody’s schedule. I remember a single mother telling me how she and her son did electives while waiting for the machines at the Laundromat to finish. If a parent spends as little as an hour a week doing these fun things with a Cub Scout son, they could easily earn an Arrow Point each month. Each Tiger Track Bead and Arrow Point on his shirt is a sign that says "We spent hours doing neat things together!"
When our task force worked on updating the Wolf Book, I was assigned the task to “do something about the Indian Sign Language Elective.” Space in these books is a critical issue and the sign language illustrations took up two whole pages. That was too much space for one little elective.
So I spent some time talking to a lot of people about what we could put in to replace the sign language. I was looking for more modern ideas of communication and I needed some expert advice. My list of experts included den leaders, teachers, parents, and, of course, Cub Scouts.
To my surprise there was almost unanimous opposition to removing the Indian Sign Language elective. Boys and leaders loved using the signs in ceremonies, skits and special messages. It was fun, it was special and it made the boys more aware of an important American heritage. The clincher came when a computer arts teacher reminded me of the value of learning another symbolic language to prepare children for their futures.
When I reported this back to the task force, we agreed to leave Indian Sign Language in the Wolf Book – at least until the next update. I notice that some 20 years later, Indian Sign Language is still there and now fills four pages.
In order to make electives work, we must somehow make every Cub Scout parent aware of how to use electives. Den and pack leaders should strive to show parents how to go through the books with their sons and pick out things that will work for them. It’s not going to happen unless we make the necessary effort to get the word out to every family. It can be done best at Parent Meetings, but we can also use news letters, ceremonies, and Cubmaster’s minutes. It helps if leaders show newly recruited parents examples of how electives can be used creatively.
You could even measure how good your pack is just by counting up the number of Arrow Points and Tiger Beads you present each month. It’s one of the best indicators of quality home and den Cub Scouting activity I can imagine.